Posts Tagged ‘rational actor fallacy’

Russia threatens further aggression against the Ukraine: The response of the West has been a bad joke; Putin must be stopped

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Updated and revised

Let me say quite frankly that it pains our hearts to see what is happening in Ukraine at the moment, see the people’s suffering and their uncertainty about how to get through today and what awaits them tomorrow. Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply close neighbours but, as I have said many times already, we are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.

–Vladimir Putin, speech to Russian parliament (Duma), March 18, 2014.

The full text of the speech is found here.

The Russian Threat

Vladimir Putin made clear in his victory speech to the Russian parliament or Duma, on March 18, 2014, that he considers the Ukraine and Russia to be inseparable.

See:

Michael Thurmann, “Deckmantel der Geschichte; Wie Wladimir Putin die Vergangenheit missbraucht, um seine Politik der Gegenwart zu rechtfertigen,” Die Zeit, 4. April 2014 (18:35 Uhr).

Ulrich Speck, “Die Ukraine-Krise bedroht besonders Deutschland;
Deutschland muss empfindlich auf die Aggression Russlands reagieren. Es wird auf der Seite der Verlierer stehen, wenn wieder das Recht des Stärkeren gilt, Die Zeit, 7. April 2014.

The Response of the West

The response of the West to Russian seizure and annexation of the Crimea has been to adopt targeted personal sanctions against less than three dozen individuals in Russia, the Crimea, and the Ukraine (Yanukovych), and one Russian bank.

In response to these sanctions, Putin has ruled out any discussion of a rollback to the status quo ante before the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea, massed 40,000 troops on the eastern and northern borders of the Ukraine, and fomented separatist demonstrations and protests in major Ukrainian cities with a large Russian-speaking population, following the same script as was used in the Crimea.

Meanwhile, the West has continued to engage in diplomatic conversations with Russia, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in constant contact with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The U.S. has been practically begging Putin not to invade eastern Ukraine, while demonstrating a shocking receptiveness, as revealed in background conversations reported in the press, to acceptance of the Russian annexation of the Crimea as a fait accompli–with no further sanctions.

The same naiveté that was in evidence when the U.S. and other Western nations totally failed to anticipate Putin’s military intervention in the Crimea is, shockingly, still operating.

Minimal sanctions were adopted after the Russian military intervention in the Ukraine, with the hope that by not angering Putin and providing him with an “off-ramp”, he would not annex the Crimea.

Within days, Russia annexed the Crimea.

Now, the West with its second round of sanctions, which are tragically disproportionate to the aggression which they aim to undo, hopes that Putin will not send Russian troops into other parts of the Ukraine.

They are also making plans to make some minimal efforts on the military front to reassure front-line NATO member states, like Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, of their commitment to mutual defense under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty.

As for the Ukraine, they are planning to undertake some joint exercises with the Ukrainian armed forces, NOT NOW, but sometime in the summer.

The Western states congratulate themselves on the “strong” measures they have imposed in their first round and second round of sanctions against less than three dozen individuals and one bank.

They have done virtually nothing to inflict real pain on Russia as leverage to force a withdrawal of forces and an undoing of the annexation of the Crimea.

Is there anything in this mix that is likely to force Putin to restore the status quo ante in the Crimea?

Hardly.

Given the weak responses of the West, is there anything in this panorama that is likely to dissuade Putin from dispatching troops to the eastern Ukraine to “protect” Russian-speaking populations from persecution and abuses?

Hardly.

Russia itself, in a replay of the Crimean script, is doing everything it can to stir up disorder in Russian-speaking areas of the Ukraine.

The “Rational Actor Fallacy”

See “The “Rational Actor” Fallacy and Stopping Syria’s Atrocities—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #8 (March 9),” The Trenchant Observer, March 9, 2012.

“The Rational Actor Fallacy” should also be borne in mind. The entire sanctions approach of the West is based on the assumption that Russia’s actions will be decided by the functional equivalent of a single rational mind, in an analytic paradigm in which costs to Russia–present and future–will be carefully weighed in reaching any decisions.

Putin, however, has unleashed forces which he may not be able to control. His propaganda machine has generated nationalistic passions in Russia, organizational processes within the government are operating, and personal commitments by bureaucratic leaders and decision makers have been secured, all of which may inevitably lead to military intervention in the Ukraine (whether by stealth or otherwise).

If this is true, the only thing which might reverse the current momentum of events could be sharp responses by the West that are sufficient in magnitude to force reconsideration in Russia, by all of the actors involved, of decisions already taken or well in progress–which will not otherwise be reversed.

In this context, the finely-tuned calculus of costs and benefits which Obama, the EU, and NATO believe will be decisive may simply be irrelevant. There is already persuasive evidence that Russia’s long-term interests, or even Putin’s, are not having an impact on Russian behavior.

The Real Choice for the West

The greatest question is whether it might prove easier to get Putin to withdraw his forces from the eastern Ukraine after a Russian invasion than it might be to dissuade him from such further aggression, by leaving no room for doubt in his mind about the consequences of such an action, including military consequences.

One measure which might focus the minds of the adventurers currently leading Russia would be to dispatch 20,000 Western troops to the Ukraine NOW–from NATO if possible, or from France and / or the United States if unanimity among the 28 member states of NATO proves unachievable. The troops could be dispatched in response to a request from the Ukraine, in exercise of the inherent right of collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, in full accordance with international law.

Ukrainian territory–the Crimean peninsula–remains under Russian occupation following its aggression against the Ukraine.

Moreover, having abrogated the treaty arrangements which granted Russia the right to maintain a certain number of troops and its naval base at Sevastopol (the terms of which to be sure were violated during the Russian invasion), if that termination is legally valid (which is dubious), there would be no legal basis under international law for the presence of any Russian forces in the Crimea.

Russia incidentally is committing economic aggression against the Ukraine by raising the price of gas above market levels, and insisting that the Ukraine repay $11 billion in discounts which it granted to the Ukraine in exchange for an extension of the naval base agreements.

The Russian legal argument for repayment of the discounts is ludicrous, in effect claiming that they don’t owe the Ukraine any discounts under the treaty because the Crimea is a part of Russia. In other words, if you have a lease and related agreements with another country for the use of certain assets, and you invade that country and seize those assets by military force, the original obligations are void. Unbelievably, that is the Russian position.

Not one independent court in the world, domestic or international, would uphold that argument. But then the Russians are not thinking in terms of independent courts, or international law as it might be determined by an independent international tribunal.

Urgent Measures to Stop Russian Aggression

It is quite possible that the invasion of Russian-speaking regions of the Ukraine will take place in the near future, within weeks if not days, long before Europe can develop a consensus on how to block such action. This is precisely what happened in the Crimea, and there is every reasons to suppose that Putin is similarly prepared to move quickly, before effective blocking measures can be adopted by the West.

Consequently, at this very moment the West may be facing its last chance to block a Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Before it is too late, NATO and the West should consider and adopt the following measures on an extremely urgent basis:

1. The first step, which should begin immediately, is for the U.S. and the EU to adopt new sanctions that would prohibit any U.S. or EU financial institution or company from handling transactions or doing business with any financial institution doing business in the Crimea, or any Russian or other company doing business in the Crimea, until such time as the annexation and military occupation have been undone, restoring the situation to the status quo ante prior to Russian military intervention.

The sanctions should be adopted as permanent sanctions which will not be lifted until the stated conditions are met.

The current EU sanctions are valid for only six months and must be renewed in order to be continued. Given this proviso, it is no wonder that Putin hasn’t taken them seriously.

Moreover, the precedent of only a six-month authorization, in Putin’s thinking and probably that of the EU nations, would also be used even if so-called “third-stage” sanctions are adopted by the EU in response to further aggression. That means that in six months Russia would only have to peel off one EU member state in order for the sanctions to lapse.

2. The second measure, which should be implemented immediately, is the dispatch to the Ukraine of 20,000 troops from NATO or individual Western countries to assist the Ukraine in its defense against current and threatened Russian aggression.

3. NATO should immediately issue a statement saying that in view of Russian aggression and the threat of further aggression against the Ukraine, its earlier statements that the use of force is not under consideration are no longer in effect, and that it will respond to any military aggression in the Ukraine in a manner which is appropriate under the circumstances.

4. Certain so-called “third-stage sanctions” should be progressively implemented over the next six months if Putin does not restore the Crimea to the status quo ante prior to the Russian invasion. The sanctions should be carefully planned, be meaningful, and progressively implemented in accordance with a time table which is made public. The message to Putin should be, loud and clear: The annexation of the Crimea will not stand.

Putin must be stopped.

The Stakes

Europeans and Americans should stop to think for a minute of the sacrifices their countrymen have already made to ensure that no further territories will be invaded or annexed–as in WW II, for example. Both the Korean war and the Gulf war were fought to uphold this principle. Many in the U.S. also believed that the Vietnam war was a response to invasion from the North (which in fact turned out to be the case, we now know).

If they do stop and think, they may come to understand that we are no longer in normal times, and that what is perhaps the greatest threat to international peace and security since the Korean war must be confronted directly, now, and if necessary by the defensive use of military force.

This is a tall order for the leaders of Europe, the U.S. and the West, who up until now have manifested strong pacifist inclinations and a willingness to consider appeasement in response to the Russian takeover of the Crimea.

But no less than this is required, if the postwar political, economic and legal order is to be upheld and maintained.

The Trenchant Observer

Der Scharfsinniger Beobachter
L’Observateur Incisif
El Observador Incisivo

The Daily Star: “We procrastinate”—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #9 (March 9)

Friday, March 9th, 2012

The Daily Star (Beirut) has been one of the absolute best sources for reliable and up-to-date information on what is going on in Syria, and on the broader significance of events.

Today’s Editorial (March 9) is particularly honest and perceptive, and cuts to the essence of the factors at play now in Syria and in the international community. Extensive excerpts follow:

(T)he death toll is now reaching 8,000, according to estimates, and the Syrian government’s cleansing of towns continues.

Figures of more than 60 a day dead are now becoming commonplace. Yet in a year of massacres, attacks, bombardments and destructions of villages, towns and cities that dare to protest we have seen the international community become mere witnesses, recording events. They simply count the numbers of dead, highlighting the devastation that has been caused.

Their action is painfully limited. Kofi Annan is to travel to Damascus Saturday to confront the violence, but what he can bring to the table is a continuation of what the regime has listened to, and ignored, all year. The United States’, the West’s and the United Nations’ semantic exercises continue unabated, and so does the bloodshed enacted by the Syrian government.

We already know that the ultimate result of Annan’s visit will be further procrastination…

As long as independent foreign media and observers are not allowed in to witness the true scale of the chaos in Syria, it can be assumed that we will continue to face a fiasco, with an international reaction that not only does not help, but actually provides a respite for the regime to continue its campaign of destruction.

The scene around Syria overflows with talk. The world’s big players proffer big words, which amount to zero in their impact on the Syrian regime – if anything they are utilized in their propaganda campaign.

The international community is attempting to save face, and by doing so is exhibiting its hypocrisy in every step and every word. This is hypocrisy of the worst kind, not only uncovering the ulterior motives of the world powers, but also serving as an eye-opener as to the intentions of the small, medium and super powers. God help any downtrodden party who takes the words of those powers at their face value. In this, the international community’s reaction to the crisis in Syria should be a lesson for many nations that look to it for support.

In the meantime, help for Syria is still at square one and none of the steps currently being taken are going to eradicate the shame of the international community.

–Editorial, The Daily Star (Beirut), March 9, 2012

As the sad spectacle of Kofi Annan’s “mediation” of the conflict proceeds, and the world’s attention is turned to what Russia, or Annan, or the U.S. or other countries are saying in their interminable diplomatic dance, it is of utter importance that we all follow the example of The Daily Star and keep our attention riveted on what is happening on the ground.

Let us all, together, focus primarily on that, on events on the ground. As Kofi Annan prepares to travel to Damascus on Saturday, March 10, tanks are surrounding Idlib, soldiers have been bussed to the area, and the new onslaught has already begun as tanks overrun villages in outlying areas. In the meantime, tanks and artillery continue to attack civilian neighborhoods in Homs. Undoubtedly, they are also on the move in other parts of Syria.

For the latest reports, see

Lauren Williams, “Deaths mount in Syria on eve of Annan talks,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 10, 2012 (02:04 AM local time).

Not only is Kofi Annan’s mission the wrong mission, but he has shown by essentially advancing the Russian position that he is not the right man for the job. Nor is it wise to place in a single individual the job of representing both the Arab League and the United Nations.

If Annan does not produce a complete ceasefire and withdrawal of tanks from cities within seven days, then his mission should be terminated by Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. This goes against the usual diplomatic inertia and courtesies and niceties, but it constitutes what is required if the killing in Syria is to be stopped.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

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How to find news reports from around the world
–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com

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The “Rational Actor” Fallacy and Stopping Syria’s Atrocities—Obama’s Debacle in Syria — Update #8 (March 9)

Friday, March 9th, 2012

“There are times, such as when a man or a group of men are in the act of firing weapons to kill innocent civilians, when it is necessary to halt the killing through means other than rational persuasion.”

A central flaw in the approach of the U.S., the U.N., and many other countries to the conflict in Syria is the assumption that by exercising “pressures” on Bashar al-Assad, we can change his calculus as to whether to continue his brutal repression of the opposition by committing atrocities and widespread and grave violations of fundamental human rights. The corrolary of this assumption is another: that if we change the calculus of the “rational” decision-maker, the behavior of the Syrian troops and state security personnel will automicatically change, in this case to halt the killing. Together, these assumptions amount to what is known as “the rational actor fallacy”, the belief that the decisions and actions of a large and complicated organization–such as the government of a country–are taken by a unitary “mind” that perceives reality, makes decisions, and implements those decisions as if it were a single “rational actor”.

See the classic studies on the rational actor fallacy:

(1) Graham Allison and Philip Zelikov, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (2d ed. 1999); and
(2) John D. Steinbruner, The Cybernetic Theory of Decision: New Dimensions of Political Analysis (1974, 2nd paperback ed. with a new preface 2002)

It is worth noting, in passing, that the rational actor fallacy is prominently at work in current discussions about whether or not to attack Iran to halt or set back its nuclear weapons program.

There are various assumptions here.  The first assumption is that al-Assad controls and directs the military and security forces which are committing the atrocities.

The second and related assumption is that he can stop the atrocities if he is persuaded, according to his own rational calculus, that it is more in his interest to halt the commission of these crimes than it is to allow them to proceed. 

Acting on this assumption, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has sent Kofi Annan to try to “mediate” the conflict, the assumption being that if he can persuade al-Assad, the killing will stop. 

There are several flaws in this reasoning.  First, on the basis of public information, we don’t really know if Bashar al-Assad is in control of decision-making processes in Syria, or if rather others are in effect controlling him. 

It is far from clear that Bashar al-Assad can stop the barbaric acts being committed under the leadership of military leaders, including his brother, who may view their mission as a struggle for survival and to preserve their own lives and families and, more broadly, the privileges of the Alawite minority that rules the country.  They may feel that they have reached a point of no return.

Could an emissary from the United Nations, or even China and the Soviet Union, have persuaded Pol Pot and through him the Kmer Rouge to stop the genocide in Cambodia in 1975-1979?

Could an emissary from the Allied Powers have persuaded Adolph Hitler to halt his exterminations at Auschwitz and other camps in 1943 (before adoption of the goal of “unconditional surrender” at the Casablanca Conference in January, 1943), or to have surrendered in January, 1945?

We are faced with a situation of war, of civil war, in which artillery and tanks are firing at civilian neighborhoods, and smaller weapons and even knives are being used to kill those caught in dragnets in cities like Homs, and in neighborhoods like Baba Amr.

Under these circumstances, it is unlikely that persuasion alone will stop the killing.  Even persuasion accompanied by robust military action, we may recall, did not stop Qadaffi and his military from fighting, long after any “rational” calculus would have determined it was time to stop.

Al-Assad may indeed have the leeway, under whatever constraints he may be operating, to negotiate with foreign diplomatic interlocutors as long as it gains him–and his military and state security apparatus–more time to pursue their efforts to annihilate the opposition.

In that context, he could in theory end up making some concessions, e.g., not to totally destroy Idlib like he did Baba Amr (in Homs), in order to forestall military action by the international community, or groups of states within that community.  But given the pattern of the last 11 months, even this seems unlikely. Perhaps he could agree not to destroy the next city after Idlib.

The Fourth Armored Division of the Republican Guard, under the command of Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher al-Assad, is currently on the march toward Idlib, according to reports.

See Khalen Yacoub Oweis (Reuters), “Forças sírias matam 54 antes da chegada de Annan,” Estadão.com.br (O Estado de São Paulo), 9 de marzo de 2012.

Lourival Sant’Anna (O Estado de S.Paulo/Antakya, Turquia), “Tanques de Assad cercam Idlib e rebeldes sírios temem novo massacre,” Estadão.com.br, 9 de marzo de 2012.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis, “Syrian forces kill 54 ahead of Annan peace mission,” The Daily Star (Beirut), March 09, 2012.

There are times, such as when a man or a group of men are in the act of firing weapons to kill innocent civilians, when it is necessary to halt the killing through means other than rational persuasion.

We have come to such a moment in Syria.

Kofi Annan has announced his intention to initiate a political process which would involve participation by the opposition in negotiations over how to settle the conflict.  The main opposition group has already declared its firm opposition to any such proposal. Annan’s proposals sound very similar to those of Russia. (China, to its credit, is now pushing for an immediate ceasefire and halt to the killing, at least according to public reports.)

Annan, whose greatest failure as Secretary General was to not stop the U.S. invasion of Iraq, appears determined to prevent the United States from taking any military action against al-Assad’s armed forces. He doesn’t seem to grasp the difference in circumstances between Iraq in 2003 and Syria today.

It would be a mistake to further militarize the conflict, Annan has asserted, ignoring the fact that one side in the conflict is highly militarized with all the weapons of the modern state, and is at this moment using those weapons against the Syrian opposition, including innocent civilians who have not joined the armed resistance.

Further militarization?  By providing people with arms and other assistance so that they can defend themselves against the wanton commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity?

Sadly, Annan’s mission will only serve to give al-Assad further time to eliminate his opposition, and to offer multiple opportunities for him to play the various nations of the civilized world off against each other.  This he did brilliantly with the Arab League in delaying its imposition of sanctions, with his immensely cynical “acceptance” of the Arab League monitors, when he had no intention of complying with the conditions for their deployment. And never did.

In short, the Annan mission, and further delay such as that being pushed by the United States, will under the best of circumstances, only serve to help al-Assad consolidate his regime, and his reign of terror. 

After the “mediation”, after the negotiations, any solution that leaves al-Assad and his regime in place will also be a solution that allows his military and state security forces to hunt down and torture and execute opponents to the regime. That is the best-case scenario.

The worst-case scenario is a long and drawn-out civil war, which over time is likely to drag in other powers from the region, and beyond.

Another part of the worst-case scenario is that the civilized world will have to live with the “day after”–the “day after” it has looked the other way in the face of the ongoing commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The day after the international community, with full awareness–in real time–of the details of these acts of barbarism, has done nothing to effectively stop them.

It will be a different world, in which dictators everywhere can take heart in knowing that the international “responsibility to protect” is empty verbiage.

It will be a world in which such dictators will be emboldened to use all the instruments of terror, if necessary when faced by civil opposition, to retain their hold on power.

The Trenchant Observer

observer@trenchantobserver.com
www.twitter/trenchantobserv

–For earlier articles by The Trenchant Observer, see the Articles on Syria page.
–To use the Search function, click on “The Trenchant Observer” at the top of this page to go to the home page, and then enter your search term in the box at the upper right.
–A list of the most recent 15 articles (on all subjects) is also found on the home page, on the right.

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How to find news reports from around the world

–Google and other major search engines use a series of filters amounting to what has been termed a “filter bubble” to limit search results to those keyed to the location, language, and previous search results of the user. See Eli Pariser, The Filter Bubble (2011).
–To find the latest news from around the world on Syria (or any other subject), you can bypass the “filter bubble” of Google and other search engines by going to and beginning your search at www.startpage.com